I sometimes lead Friday night services for an independent minyan. I’ve never made a conscious effort to “punk up” services, but I have done so in a few different regards.
“Adon Olam” is a prayer that is sung to a wide variety of melodies, including traditional melodies and pretty much anything else. Back in 2003, as part of a basement show I organized called the Lacking Musician-ship Gig, I sang “Adon Olam” with Green Day’s “Minority” playing in the background. These days, when I lead services, I typically sing “Adon Olam” to the tune of “Minority.” Some members of the minyan have come to expect it and love it! I’ve also done “Adon Olam” to “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones (around the 40th anniversary of when the band played its first show at CBGB), to “Drunken Lazy B*stard” by the Mahones (around St. Patrick’s Day), and to “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof (around the 50th anniversary of that show’s Broadway premiere).
In between washing one’s hands and saying the blessing over challah, there is a minhag (custom) not to speak. Some people hum or sing nigunim (wordless melodies) at this time. There are some great examples of punk rock and nigunim together (check out Di Nigunim and Electric Simcha), but that doesn’t help in the moment. When I’m with some members of the minyan, it’s become our minhag to hum “Intermission” by The Offspring. Surely some punk purists don’t see The Offspring (or Green Day) as authentically punk rock, but both groups came from punk rock backgrounds and they were my entrée to punk rock as a teenager.
In the last year, I’ve done what I call Anarchy “L’cha Dodi.” It’s common to switch melodies after the first five verses of “L’cha Dodi,” but typically the shaliach tzibur (the person leading the service) would be the one to start singing the second melody. Instead, I’ve just stayed quiet until someone else finally started singing a different melody. Usually this has worked out well, but last time, it took a while before someone finally came forward. One day I might get to witness more anarchy if several people start singing different melodies at the same time!
There is one example of how I’ve stopped doing something in a “punk” way. From the time I learned it in Hebrew school, I enjoyed reciting the kiddush over wine as fast as I could. My father always told me to slow down. A few years ago, my friend Cantor Tracy Fishbein was coaching me on leading services for the first time. She said that I had to slow it down, because doing the kiddush so fast was detracting from the holiness. I wrote in my notes, “Be holy, not speed-punk.” I have slowed down the pace ever since. If only my father had lived to see it!